It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Cleveland Indians Examiner broke down the Tribe’s perilous second half of 2012’s season.
The pitching struggled. The hitters struggled. Everything fell apart, culminating in constant drawn-out losing streaks and a disheartened franchise.
Fans were promised something different over the off-season. Through 43 games, they’re getting it–a taste of what could be the Indians’ first divisional championship since 2007.
The team is on a five-game winning streak after completing a four-game sweep over the Seattle Mariners on Monday.
Here’s five reasons why the Tribe has started out the season 26-17, good for first place by 2.5 games over the Detroit Tigers.
AL Central Scores for Monday, May 20
Seattle Mariners @ Cleveland Indians: 10-8
Minnesota Twins @ Atlanta Braves: 5-1
Boston Red Sox @ Chicago White Sox: 6-4
Kansas City Royals @ Houston Astros: 6-5
AL Central Standings for May 21, 2013
Cleveland Indians…….26-17….0.0 games back
Detroit Tigers:…….…23-19….2.5 games back
Kansas City Royals:…20-21…5.0 games back
Chicago White Sox:….20-23….6.0 games back
Minnesota Twins:……18-23….7.0 games back
AL Central Schedule for Tuesday, May 21
Detroit Tigers @ Cleveland Indians – 7:05 p.m.
Minnesota Twins @ Atlanta Braves – 7:10 p.m.
Boston Red Sox @ Chicago White Sox – 8:10 p.m.
Kansas City Royals @ Houston Astros – 8:10 p.m.
All times in eastern standard.
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The team is led by Justin Masterson, who has finally come around to be one of the league’s top starters. He is 7-2 this year with a 2.83 ERA. He has already thrown two complete game shutouts (against the White Sox on April 12; against the New York Yankees on May 19). His 70 innings pitched lead the league, averaging seven innings a start.
Zach McAllister’s been one of the pleasant surprises for the Indians this year. In eight starts, he’s 3-3, with just a 2.65 ERA. His BB/9 inning rate has gotten better over the years; in 51 innings this season, he’s walked just 14 batters.
On the back end, Corey Kluber has shown he can be a capable 4th or 5th starter. He’s had five starts this season and only one diastrous outing. Take away an eight-run clobbering at the hands of the Tigers, his ERA is around 3 in 22 2/3 innings pitched.
Ubaldo Jimenez struggled early in the season, but he’s since been one of the best in the rotation. He had three straight outings of four or more earned runs given up, but since April 21, he’s yet to give up that many in any game. In his last four starts, Jimenez is 4-0 with just a 1.90 ERA in 23 2/3 innings pitched. In that stretch, he’s struck out 29 batters and walked just eight.
The New Guys
The complete remodelling of the Cleveland Indians has been well documented in this Examiner. After an exciting and busy offseason, Tribe fans are starting to see some results from the new players.
Nick Swisher has wasted no time becoming one of the key bats of the lineup. His 23 walks tie for team best, giving him a .382 on-base percentage. He already has 20 extra-base hits and a team-best 40 hits overall.
Mark Reynolds has become perhaps the best surprise for the Tribe this year. More on him in the next segment.
Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes, Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn have all played well in their limited time. Injuries gave all four more playing time, and they’ve often risen to the occasion.
Giambi, at 42 years old, already has 12 RBI on the year through just 15 games played. Aviles has appeared in 28 games, batting .292 with 14 RBI. Raburn is batting .299 in 87 at bats, driving in 14 with five home runs.
One of the fatal weaknesses for the Indians club last year was the lack of power from the right-handed side. The team would oftentimes have seven or more lefties in the lineup.
In 2012, against right-handed starting pitchers, the team batted .256 and hit 96 home runs. Against left-handed starting pitchers, the team batted just .239 with 40 home runs.
This year’s lineup has a lot more balance. Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera all provide pop from the right-handed side as switch hitters.
Also, the team has relied on Mark Reynolds, near the top of the American League in home runs with 12. He’s driven in 37 runs with a team-leading .548 slugging percentage.
Ryan Raburn, Drew Stubbs, Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes are all decent right-handed hitters as well for the team in 2013.
“Clutch” is often a difficult word to quantify, so let’s go with timely. This could mean late-inning heroics or getting the job done on a daily basis.
In terms of hitting with runners in scoring position, the Indians are far improved from 2012. So far this season, the team is sixth in the AL, batting .274 with RISP. The team also has the most extra-base hits with RISP in the league.
Last season, the Indians were 13th in the league, batting .239 with RISP.
With two outs, the Tribe hits even better. Cleveland’s batting .304 with RISP and two outs, best in the American League. Last year, the team was 13th with a .221 batting average in those spots.
The Indians shine with the game on the line, too, as the recent sweep of the Seattle Mariners showed.
Yan Gomes won Monday’s game with a walk-off three run home run. Two nights before, the team loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth before Mark Reynolds hit a game-winning fielder’s choice to end it. The night before that? Another walk-off homer, this time from Jason Kipnis.
With much of the cold weather gone and summer break approaching for most schools, attendance is growing for the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. In a homestand between April 30 and May 9, beginning when the team was still two games under .500, the Indians averaged just over 13,000 fans a game.
In four games against Seattle, including a noon game on Monday, the team averaged nearly 23,000 fans per game.
Hopefully this means better attendance figures over the summer for the Indians, who finished last in attendance in 2012 and were on pace to do so again in 2013.